Congolisation: Vibes from the diaspora

© Nadine Baboy
| In her award winning show Désintégration Culturelle, Brussels-based Nadina Baboy employs music, poetry and dance to convey the multiple identities that live within her.

Congolisation, the festival of “afro-diaspo-art made in Belgium”, will bring the Pianofabriek to life for four days with an array of young dancers, musicians, and performers of the African diaspora that you won’t want to miss out on.

The African diaspora in Belgium includes many artists whose work is of such quality that they deserve greater visibility. To remedy the problem, four years ago, the Kinshasa-born musician, actor, and director Pitcho Womba Konga (Kuzikiliza) started the Congolisation festival (combining the words “Congo” and “colonisation”) in order to highlight the contribution of Congolese artists to the Belgian cultural landscape and make people begin to appreciate and reflect on the diaspora’s artistic heritage and the lack of role models for the younger generation.

“Where are our forerunners?” asks Pitcho Womba Konga, who chose to make this year’s Congolisation all about the discovery of young talent. “Because these artists were not visible in the past, young people today struggle to find role models. Congolisation aims to create spaces in which those role models can emerge, so that new generations of artists can connect with them.”

What is the reason for that lack of visibility?

Pitcho Womba Konga: I think a huge amount of artistic exchange between the North and the South goes on in Belgium, but when it comes to artists of the diaspora, there are not enough spaces that put them on show. Their only option is to do commercial work, which is also hard to come by. I think there is a lack of confidence in allowing those artists to develop the way they want to. My understanding is that artists of the diaspora, for the most part, do not necessarily have an academic background and have not been to academies or art schools.

They are people whose contact with the art world came about on the ground. In an institution, you have the possibility of trying and of not succeeding on your first attempt, something you don’t have in the commercial world. As a director, I never went to art school, but my work with the KVS enables me to share my work experience with artists who do have an academic background and vice versa. It’s enriching and it’s important that the two roads intersect.

The festival is celebrating its fourth birthday. Do you feel like things are changing, that the diaspora is better represented in the public sphere?

Pitcho Womba Konga: I’m a very optimistic person. I think things are changing, but nothing should be taken for granted. Some things are happening that are great, others less so. All stories have the right to exist and to be told in the public arena, but everyone must choose their own path, free from constraints.

A Congolese person must have the opportunity to be inspired by Napoleon, and a Belgian by Lumumba. No one civilisation has sole ownership of knowledge or heroic concepts. We all draw inspiration from one another.

> Congolisation
7 > 10/2, Pianofabriek

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